June has not been and will not be a regular month in Uruguay. 90 years ago, the construction of the legendary Centenario Stadium that would host the first World Cup was underway, running against the clock. June 2020 will also be a time of preparation and challenges. The reopening of rural educational centers that took place in April will gradually become generalized to urban educational centers, in a hybrid scheme that combines the in-person model with at-home activities. In 1930 Uruguay was the first country to host the World Cup; in 2020 it will, likewise, be the first country in the region to experience the reopening education systems.
Uruguay faced the closure of educational centers, due to the pandemic caused by COVID-19, and the three challenges of remote emergency teaching – maintaining the teacher-student and school-families links, delivering educational content, and monitoring learning – in better conditions than any other country in the region. The digital transformation of the education process had an early impulse with the CEIBAL Plan that universally provided devices, content platforms, and learning management systems, in addition to training teachers in its use and promoting new pedagogical practices. Thus, in the face of the emergency, the system in general and the management and teaching teams responded quickly.
The number of teachers and students who entered the learning management system quadrupled compared to pre-pandemic statistics: more than 75% of the students and over 84% of teachers connected to the platform. However, the access gap to this system among students in quintile 1 and 5 is 22 percentage points. Likewise, internet access at home is uneven (99% for households in quintile 5 compared to 70% for those in quintile 1, according to preliminary data from the 2019 Survey on Uses of Information and Communication Technologies). Additionally, the possibility of families accompanying their children is also uneven (23% of middle-class families have heads of household with a minimum of 13 years of education compared with 1.5% of the poorest). Exiting the emergency will present enormous challenges.
Reopening in stages
The recovery of in-person classes will be in stages. Activities that facilitate the conclusion and continuity of educational cycles, such as exams, will be resumed immediately. Also, those activities that address situations of educational vulnerability, accompaniment, and tutoring activities for those students who need it will also resume right away. The last stage will be the resumption of in-person administration and management activities in the central and local offices.
For the opening of educational centers, a progressive strategy will be applied in three stages:
- As of June 1st, all the primary cycle educational centers that serve vulnerable populations and students on their last year of secondary education will begin to operate, excluding those located in Montevideo and the metropolitan area;
- As of June 15th, all initial education and early childhood services will begin, along with the rest of the primary education centers in non-urban areas and those that serve vulnerable populations in Montevideo and the metropolitan area. In middle school, there will be a generalized opened both to the rest of the educational centers in non-urban areas, and to seniors in Montevideo and the metropolitan area;
- Finally, on June 29, the reopening of all other primary, secondary and technical education centers, both public and private, is enabled throughout the country.
This strategy is built on graduality in three levels. A regional one, starting in the interior where there were less COVID-19 cases; another one related to vulnerability where areas of critical context are privileged; and lastly, a pedagogical one, which privileges the completion of cycles and the support and reincorporation of those students with higher vulnerability.
What tools does Uruguay have to accompany schools and their teachers in these challenges?
First, a strategy that leaves room for flexibility. Specifying and monitoring the implementation of these three stages is left to the educational authorities, facilitating adaptation to particular situations and challenges. Uruguay has tools to accompany the educational trajectory of each student: data related to access to platforms was incorporated into administrative data and became essential in this hybrid stage between in-person and distance learning. This will be vital to reinstate students who were not connected in the emergency stage. Finally, the possibility of making a quick diagnosis of the students’ learning gaps when they restart face-to-face activities. This, placed in the hands of teachers, will be a fundamental guide to recover and level learning.
As June 2020 will have many challenges, June 1930 also had them and were successfully overcome. The story goes that the heavy rains that hit Montevideo that year delayed the opening of the Centenario Stadium. Thus, several World Cup matches had to be moved to other venues. The stadium was finally inaugurated on July 18th, the national homeland holiday? date, and hosted the final match in which Uruguay would be crowned champion in a historic final. In 2020, the reopening announcements and their implementation will not be without contingencies and adjustments. However, the reopening challenges teachers, families, and students to recreate the educational community but also to transform it by incorporating new spaces, such as the use of digital tools and distance learning that allows education to happen not only in the classroom but also at home. This presents an opportunity in which there is much to do and much to learn.
How are the reopening of schools in your countries planned? Tell us below in the comment section or on Twitter at @BIDeducacion